Up there in the pantheon of Movies Terry Gilliam Almost Made, riding right near the top (beneath “Harry Potter“) is an adaptation of Alan Moore‘s “Watchmen.” In case you weren’t aware, before Zack Snyder got his slow-motion, “Hallejuah”-scored-sex-scene hands on the comic, the project was set up over at 20th Century Fox where Joel Silver and Gilliam were working on it. Obviously, it never came to pass, with Gilliam saying the material was “unfilmable,” but today Silver sheds a light on just how different their version would have been.
The producer recently stopped by ComicSoon to talk this weekend’s “Non-Stop,” and the conversation turned to many other topics, but it’s “Watchmen” where Silver doesn’t hold back stating plainly that Gilliam’s version would’ve been, “a MUCH much better movie.” So what was the problem with Snyder’s take? Read on:
I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material. I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success. What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of “Brazil”].
So, how they did manage to wrestle a story that goes into literal outer space, but also deals with homemade heroes, political undertones and so much more? They re-envisioned the material in a way that would make it work more naturally on the big screen:
What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.
So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time.
As you might know, Moore wound up pulling his name from Snyder’s “Watchmen” and we can’t imagine he would’ve been thrilled at the pretty wild overhauling of his comic here either. But you know what? It kinda works on paper, and it was pretty smart of Gilliam to find an approach that probably would’ve worked a bit better, and been certainly more fascinating on the big screen, than Snyder’s dry, comic panel replicating take.
But what do you think? Was Gilliam on the right path or is “Watchmen” truly unfilmable? Tell us below.